Sometimes we underestimate the weight of the invisible work we do. If you are a parent to a child who suffers with anxiety, you know what I mean.
My youngest son, nine years old, experiences anxiety. It is not severe, but it definitely impacts our lives. The end of the weekend and the beginning of a new school week often trigger him.
For this reason, I dread Sundays. Around midday, the lamenting begins. A cloud of melancholiness swallows him up and his demeanor becomes dark.
Then the whining commences, “I don’t want to go to school tomorrow. Why does the weekend go so quickly?” Calmly I reply, “It does go too quickly! I agree, but let’s look at what we have to look forward to this week.”
That activity usually appeases him for the first round of lamenting.
A little while later, he repeats how he feels again. Then he states the obvious. “You don’t have to go to school.”
To which I calmly state the obvious, “No. I don’t, but I did when I was your age.”
The back and forth continues intermittently throughout Sunday. I remind him that he gets to choose a special breakfast and dinner on Mondays. Both were suggestions from his therapist. Offering him the chance to choose his meals helps him control what he can. It provides him with a sense of power since he feels so powerless about having to go to school. The suggestions have worked well and do help the situation.
As bedtime rolls around, he quietly requests that he needs to talk to me. He lies in bed and reviews the reasons why he doesn’t want to go to school. He puts in a few digs about whoever made school a weekly event is the worst person ever. He goes on to say how much he will miss me and the dog. He even experiences physical effects some nights. These include stomach aches, headaches, and dizziness. All subside on their own.
By the time all of this angst has been wrung out of him, he falls asleep quickly, and I am utterly drained.
I drag myself across the hall and flop into my bed. It is essential that I get rest because I am well aware that the following morning won’t be much better.
Monday begins with a temperamental 9-year-old boy, plodding down the stairs, oozing anxiety about a new week beginning. He chooses his breakfast and dinner but still laments over being separated from mom and the dog all day.
At 8:30 a.m. the bus whisks him away, and I wave as he peers out the window at me. The exhaustion and relief mix, my shoulders soften and I let out a sigh. I know he will be perfectly fine and most likely disembark the bus that afternoon with a smile on his face. This behavior is mainly reserved for Sundays and Mondays.
The anecdote outlined above is just one of the ways his anxiety manifests.
Having a child who experiences anxiety can be exhausting.
It takes a lot of self-regulation to remain calm because, as parents, allowing our emotions to overpower us often escalates anxiety in our children. Anxiety requires reassurance, attention, and energy.
While the goal is for my son to use the tools he learns to manage his own anxiety, we are not there yet. Oftentimes, I must act as a therapist, allowing him to pour out his emotions while I hold space for him. It is important that he feels heard and seen, but at some point, he must be able to do that for himself.
In the meantime, I will help him through. When I find myself reflecting on my day and questioning why I am so exhausted, I just need to remind myself about the invisible work. It’s not always seen but it is felt, and it is heavy.